Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers

Laura Veirs
Saltbreakers

Although it was 2004’s Carbon Glacier that drew her into the Americana limelight, to these ears it took 2005’s Year of Meteors to be convinced that Laura Veirs had more to offer than simply a crystalline and bookish take on the introspective singer-songstress shtick. Given Veirs’ fondness for clean spacey production, it made more sense to give her songs room to roam in the studio rather than capture them quietly and nakedly. Hence on Year of Meteors she gifted us songs wrapped-up in subtle but distinctive art-pop grooves, not too far from the world of The Sea And Cake, Windsor For The Derby and Yo La Tengo. High hopes therefore abounded for this year’s sequel – Saltbreakers – and for the most part Veirs does not disappoint.

Rather than merely duplicating the recording treatments used on Year of Meteors, Veirs – together with regular collaborators Karl Blau (guitar/bass/vocals), Steve Moore (keyboards) and Tucker Martine (drums/production) – bravely extends upon its ambitious reach with auxiliary recording explorations. And although Saltbreakers may have less easy-to-find melodic hooks than its predecessor, it certainly doesn’t lack much in the rich eclecticism stakes.

The opening “Pink Light” acts as a good bridge between this album and its prequel; layering intricate guitar lines around fizzing synths and a shifting rhythmic bed, upon which Veirs’ creamy vocals confidently glide. By the next track, “Ocean Night Song”, things however stretch into string-dosed exotica, strangely invoking comparisons with Björk’s evocative “Isobel” and Nina Nastasia’s Dogs. On a less organic – but no less likeable note – lead single “Don’t Lose Yourself” comes dressed in gorgeous electro-pop burbling, with a snagging chorus included for good measure. Elsewhere, on the likes of “Drink Deep”, “Nightingale” and “Black Butterfly”, Veirs fashions herself not so much as an post-modern art-rocker but more as an enigmatic baroque balladeer; sounding uncannily like the missing-link between lost 70s siren Judee Sill and ex-Madder Rose chanteuse Mary Lorson.

The deeper-in you delve, then even more imaginative song settings float to prominence. Whilst Veirs is no Curtis Mayfield, it doesn’t stop her from successfully co-opting some of his symphonic soul orchestrations circa-Superfly for the shimmering “Wandering Kind”. On the sublime “To The Country” Veirs goes even further beyond her comfort zone by enrolling an 8-piece gospel choir and labelmate Bill Frisell to step into a balmy Western African-flavoured homage to rural escapism. In-between all this genre-hopping, Veirs still finds space to plug-in and let loose, with a splatter of buzzsaw-guitar strutting on the throwaway but fun chugging of “Phantom Mountain”.

Perhaps one of the main stumbling blocks against the total success of Saltbreakers comes through the less adventurous treatments for songs like of “Cast A Hook” and “Wrecking”, which are damned for just sounding ‘ordinary’ in relief to nearby tracks. Additionally, as admirable as Laura Veirs is, there continues to be an intangible ‘something’ missing that stops her from being unquestionably adorable. But there’s still time for that aura to surround her and judging by the concentrated craftsmanship spread across this album, it shouldn’t – by rights – be far from her already powerful magnetic pull.